Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What's So Funny?

Humor is often conflated with comedy, which is largely physical in nature, involving such elements as slipping on a banana peel--do persons in real life ever trip on banana peels?--or the more realistic slipping on ice. From the French we get yet another useful word, farce, which is forced or enhanced, thus comedy is tragedy sped up.

In fact, humor is associated with pain--yours or someone else's; it comes to us somewhere in late adolescence and remains like a visiting relative until we become so focused on trying to remember what we last said and to whom that it has become our legacy, passed on to those who survive us as a reminder that we are funny because we are so preoccupied with trying not to be noticed.

Humor is the denominator for what is called edge or attitude. Individuals who are spoken of as having a good sense of humor or any sense of humor at all are those persons who see themselves trying to cope and, like some of the higher-priced, non-steroid-using baseballers, hitting around one for three. He has a sense of humor translates to he does not take himself too seriously. She has a sense of humor translates to In addition to tracking her own foibles, she has to cope with a him who takes himself a might too seriously.

Humor is more than slipping on a banana peel, it is yanking the rug from under a he or she who has built without a permit or geological survey on the moral high ground, he or she who knows a thing or two about seriousness and attempts to show us by example how it is best maintained. Humor is descent, captured in time-lapse photography; it is pain of awareness made palatable.

Humor is Robbie Burns's electric "O! wad some Power the giftie gie us/To see ourselves as Ithers see us/ 'Twould from many a blunder free us/ and foolish notion.

Thus is humor blunder on its way to a collision, foolish notion in the driver's seat.

Dignity is the momentary abeyance of humor, it is a much sought-after plateau where the Self dwells as a kind of suzerain, surveying the campus grounds. Fair enough, provided one does not attempt to use that image of self to win arguments with others: I am more dignified than you.
Not. Am too. Not.

Any person caught up in a situation of stress becomes a petri dish for humor.

The message is one of awareness. The awareness is a simple one: At any given moment, we are vulnerable. The good news is that this is our E-ticket to the rides of life; it gets us on everything, no waiting, no hidden fees. The bad news is that we may attempt to protect ourselves from the inevitable by doing the equivalent of walking down the streets of the Green Zone in Baghdad with a McCain armored vest and reporting back to the rest of the world that the surge is working.

The first cousin of humor is irony, which is an E-ticket to misreading persons and events, but it is already growing late and I have still not done lecture notes for today's grand return from Spring Break, so maybe tomorrow for irony.

1 comment:

z said...

There is a stereotype I've heard of comedians as sad, pained people. There are some comedians who are just funny, like Jerry Seinfeld, and others whose humor is almost vicious, where the pain is more obvious than the humor, none of whose names I remember because they quickly turn me off.